I’ll run the rule over what I see as the key points from Stoke’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic at the Britannia Stadium yesterday.
A fitting end
This season our home form has been magnificent, winning ten of our nineteen games, the fifth most in the division, which is a superb achievement for a newly promoted side. It was very appropriate therefore that we should bring the curtain down on our home campaign with a good victory yesterday, in front of the ever vociferous Britannia Stadium faithful.
A deserved lap of honour
When the Stoke players came out for their customary last home game lap of honour at the end of the match, it was great to see almost every single Stoke fan waiting behind to clap them round and show their appreciation after what has been a season of huge achievement. Surprisingly, a few Wigan fans stayed behind to soak up the part atmosphere too, so kudos goes to them as they were determined to enjoy themselves even in defeat.
A pitch invasion from a Catherine Tate character only added to the jubilant atmosphere. How very dare he encroach on the playing surface?
There’s only one Tony Pulis
After being unpopular during his first spell at the club, there are still a number of Stoke fans who refuse to accept and applaud what Tony Pulis has done for us. It was really good to hear then his name being sung near ceaselessly throughout the final stages of the match. He’s a very good manager and a thoroughly decent person, and finally seems to be getting the recognition he deserves.
Recognition for Abdoulaye
Before the match, nine or ten different player of the season awards were given on the pitch by various supporters’ clubs, and every single one went to our captain magnifique, Abdoulaye Faye. He has been absolutely tremendous this season. Without him I fully expect we would be facing the sort of nervy week in the run up to the crucial final days that the likes of Hull and Newcastle are now, and its only right that he should be honoured in this way.
Wigan are a side with no confidence, having taken just one point from their last seven games, and it showed, as they never really threatened going forward and ultimately gave in to Stoke’s pressure defensively. The only two of their players who impressed me were left-back Maynor Figueroa and forward Hugo Rodallega, particularly the latter, who is deceptively strong and good in the air and did cause a few problems for Faye and co. Wigan will now finish somewhere around Stoke in mid-table, and judging from that performance they should be thankful for the impressive points tally they racked up int he first half of the season, otherwise they too could be in trouble.
Thomas Sorensen grimaces as he steals the ball from the lively Rodallega
Yesterday was the first time Lee Probert has refereed a Stoke game in the league this season, and I must say I was very impressed with his performance. It’s extremely frustrating for a fan to see a referee turning a game into a stop-start, scrappy affair, so it was good to see Probert letting the game run most of the time. I was also pleased he kept his cards in his pocket all match, as despite there being a few fouls in the match, it was never a malicious or bad-tempered one.
On a day of refereeing controversy, Probert impressed
Thomas Sorensen (gk): The Dane had a solid game, and kept a deserved clean sheet, but in truth he was never really tested by Wigan, who had just two shots on target, both of which he’d have been very disappointed to allow past him. 6
Ryan Shawcross (rb): Shawcross started the game in the unfamiliar right-back role and struggled to make an impression from there. For the second half he was moved to his regular centre-back spot, and played solidly if not eye-catchingly. 6
Leon Cort (cb): Before being tactically withdrawn at half time, the former Crystal Palace defender did little particularly wrong, but nothing great either. He should be satisfied with his efforts from his second straight start after five months out of the team. 6
Abdoulaye Faye (cb): Once again, a very strong, assured performance from everyone’s favourite Senegalese man. His calmness on the ball is a joy to watch. He was fortunate not to give away a penalty when he seemed to trip Paul Scharner after an untimely slip though. 7
Andy Wilkinson (lb): Wilko, also starting the game out of position was equally solid. He was good defensively playing at left-back in the first half, and added to our attacking threat when he was able to get forward better from the right side later in the game. 7
Liam Lawrence (rm): Lawrence had another good game and seems to be back to his best now. He was a threat with the ball and got a good assist for Fuller’s goal. It’s a shame for him that the season has to come to an end just when he is finding top gear. 7
Rory Delap (cm): Delap had quite a subdued game, not really imposing himself upon the midfield battle. His long throws were close to their best though, one going straight into the goal before being disallowed for any one of a number of perceived infringements. 6
Glenn Whelan (cm): The Irish international put in a pretty good performance, seeing a lot of the ball from midfield and playing an excellent pass to Matthew Etherington just before our second goal. He squandered possession cheaply a few times though, which is something I’d like to see him remove from his game. 6
Matthew Etherington (lm): At times since he signed for us, I have accused Etherington of being chicken, and lacking confidence. Although he displayed a frisson of these tendencies on occasion yesterday, it was certainly not the case as he assisted Beattie’s goal, very bravely getting to the ball ahead of Richard Kingson to set up the striker. 7
James Beattie (cf): I thought Beattie had a very good game yesterday. He played very intelligently, with some excellent link up play with the midfield and showed good decision making in drawing fouls from Wigan players when he had no other options. Generally, his shooting was poor, but he made up for it by taking his headed goal well. It was his first goal since early April, and his nineteenth of the season. If he is able to find the net at Arsenal next week, he will become our first twenty goal striker in almost a decade. 8
Ricardo Fuller (cf): The Jamaican had a good game as his friend Usain Bolt watched on from the stands. He made a nuisance of himself throughout and took his goal well, eventually. It’s pleasing for him to get into double figures for the season, having only ever scored one Premier League goal before this year. 7
Danny Pugh (lb): Pugh had a good game after coming on at half time in the left back position most people consider to be the weakest of the three he can feature in, no doubt benefiting from the absence of Louis Antonio Valencia from the Wigan side. He got forward well and was unlucky not to score with a powerful half volley. 7
Salif Diao (cm): Having missed the last two months injured, the out of contract holding midfielder came on for what may prove to be his farewell appearance at the Britannia Stadium. Pulis is known to think very highly of him, so it’s my belief that there will be a new contract on offer for him if he wants one, but at 32 and plagued by injuries, he may choose to hang up his boots or return to the two countries in which he grew up, Senegal and France. 7
Richard Cresswell (cf): Coming on for Beattie in the last few minutes, Cresswell did very little. NA
My Man of the Match: James Beattie
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